What Parents Need
To Know

Piercings and teenagers go hand-in-hand. Like clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, piercings offer teens a way to express themselves. If your teen has expressed interest in piercings, especially in stretching or gauging the earlobe, there are a few things you should know.

Teen with tongue ring

When done properly, piercing is safe. Elayne Angel is the author of The Piercing Bible – The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing and the Medical Liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) and recommends following standard safety precautions for a safe piercing experience:

  • the piercing should be done in a hygienic facility by a trained, experienced worker
  • sterile, disposable equipment should be used
  • jewelry of the correct material, size, and style should be inserted
  • proper aftercare instructions should be followed

Tongue and nose piercings in teens

Tongue and nose piercings are pretty common among today's teens. And while many parents are over the shock factor, they still worry that tongue and nose piercings are unsanitary.

>> 6 Ways to tame teen behavior

Contrary to popular belief, Angel says oral piercings are not especially prone to infection. The mouth and nose have tremendous defensive strategies. In fact, the mouth is one of the fastest healing sites in the body. A tongue piercing can heal in six-to-eight weeks, says Angel, while a navel piercing can take up to nine months to heal.

A new trend -- stretching

Have you seen earlobe piercings that are large enough to look through? Check out a picture of earlobe gauging here. It's sometimes referred to as gauging, but "piercers loathe the term gauging," says Angel. "We call it stretching. And the jewelry worn in stretched pierces -- plugs, eyelets, talons, and other jewelry designs – should never be called gauges."

Whatever the name, it's an unsettling trend. What motivates a person to do this? Is it dangerous? Can it be undone?

Why stretch your ear?

Andrew B. has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, but his decision to stretch his earlobes wasn't about nonconformity or rebellion. "I saw a guy with [stretching] at a pizza shop and thought it was pretty cool," says Andrew.

Andrew's parents weren't thrilled with his decision to put giant holes in his earlobes, but "I told them it was no different than my mom copying a hairstyle she liked," says Andrew.

How stretching is done

For stretching, Angel recommends going up no more than one size at a time. "You must allow sufficient time between each enlargement," Angel says, "for the tissue to fully regain its suppleness and integrity." Angel explains that skin is resilient if it's not abused.

When an individual becomes impatient and tries to force the piercing, the consequences can be severe. "Overstretching can result in a buildup of scar tissue and reduction of flexibility," warns Angel. This can make it difficult to stretch in the future or to shrink back to normal.

How teens sneak stretching by parents

It's this slow speed of stretching that also lets teens sneak the process right by their parents. One mother said she had no idea her son was stretching his earlobes until it was too late. "I was fine with his pierced ears," she says, "and I just thought he was wearing bigger and stranger earrings. I didn't know it was a means to this end."

So, how do you un-do it?

Next page: How to repair a stretched or gauged ear

Continue »

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Comments on "Teen piercing trends: Earlobe gauging, stretching and body piercing"

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Jackie May 09, 2013 | 12:38 PM

My mom freaked out as I slowly collected piercings. I started with lobes of course, and then slowly adorned my nose, tongue, nipples, navel, and some other places. I have 13 now :) she didn't let me get anything pierced in high school, but once I turned 18 I told her that this was a way of self expression that was totally unique to me, and that I loved them, and even if she didn't think so, that I thought my piercings enhanced my beauty. Plus, they had added to my self esteem, and I have no problems with my body anymore (after stripping several more times for body piercings). Slowly and grudgingly, they accepted them, especially after I actually got a high school teaching gig. The only one my parents would not tolerate is my tongue ring, which I keep concealed anyway. When I have kids, I'm definitely going to use piercings as incentives, if they want one. For instance, if they get an A in this class, they can get a new one. This is safer than letting them go at it with a needle and an ice cube, or going to a filthy piercer who knows nothing behind my back. The stereotype of people with piercings needs to be broken, and that can only happen if we all start being reasonable about it. Then it won't seem like such a "bad" activity after all.

Carole Lynn August 05, 2012 | 2:11 PM

I have had my ears stretched for a long time already and they measure almost two inch inside diameter. My husband talked me into having my long hair cut, as he likes it. Little did I know I was getting sheared, I had hair well on my shoulders and now I wear it no longer than a half inch at the most. Shorter on the sides and back. For te first time my lobes are totally visible, I have no way to hide them anymore I expect my parents to disown me when they see that. They are the churchy types... My husband loves me for having my hair cut off and exposing my lobes though. He wants me to have permanent cosmetic make up done too. He doesn't care what the cost. Lip liner, lip color, eye liner and eyebrows will be done soon. I find it very exciting and my husband finds all that very y, That is something I like very much of course. We do it now a couple of times during the week and on week-ends we never stop !!

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Bep April 18, 2012 | 10:59 AM

Earlobe stretching is a lot easier than you would think. My ears are being stretched now. The first thing we did was ti actually make a tiny slit verically in my lobes, so we didn't start with a little pin hole. The cut was no more than four millimeters. We inserted a little plug that fitted comfortably and let that heal completely before the actual stretching started. Now i wear plugs of two centimeters and soon we go one more up. The slower you go the better it is. Erica, I wish you and your boyfriend well and you are right: men find it y!!! Bep

ERiCA July 06, 2011 | 7:23 AM

I am in te process of stretching my earlobes. at the urging of my fiance. He can get his index finger throuhg the holes now. We are taking our time and so far we have been busy with it for about eighteen months. We have no problems with it and there is actually no pain to speak of ! We intend to stretch them untill they are something like one and half inches long, if possible! It is definetely eye catcching and I love it. I wear purposly a very short hair cut, to show off my ears. We just love it and find it very xy. Erica

John Tribal Piercing and Education February 18, 2010 | 8:37 AM

I would like to correct your article. Gauge is a type of measurement. when people say im "gauging" my ears. Proper is "stretching". The jewelry are called plugs not gauges. Just for clarification.

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